Rory McIlroy should not anticipate being named ‘Employee of the Month’ at PGA Tour HQ after posing a few damning questions about the controversial overhaul of the Tour Championship.
First, the world No 3 asked if the new handicapped scoring system is appropriate for an event which likes to think of itself on the top rungs of the sport. And then he inquired aloud whether the much-publicised $15million (£12.3m) winning cheque is “relatable to the fans”. To many, the answers to these two queries will be a resounding “no and no”.
If the obscene jackpot on offer – and the shameless marketing of the $5m hike from last year – is a turn-off, then the unprecedented new format could manage to cause even more shaking of heads.
The player at the top of FedEx Cup standings, Justin Thomas, will start Thursday’s first round in Atlanta on 10-under. With the 30-strong field handicapped based on their positions in that points list, the player in second, Patrick Cantlay, will tee off on eight-under, and then a sliding scale down to the players in 26th to 30th on level-par.
McIlroy starts on five-under and could, therefore, beat Thomas by four shots over four rounds and still finish behind him. That sort of scenario makes the 30-year-old uneasy.
“We had breakfast with some of the sponsors and what I said to them was if the PGA Tour is trying to do this ‘season of championships’, which starts with the Players in March, then goes through the four majors and culminates with the FedEx Cup at the end, if the FedEx Cup really wants to have this legacy in the game like some of these other championships, is people starting the tournament on different numbers the best way to do it?” McIlroy said.
“I get it from a fan experience point of view, I get it from giving guys that have played better throughout the year an advantage, but I don’t know – come back to me on Monday and I’ll tell you if it has worked. You can shoot the best score of the week and not win the tournament. If that happens to someone it’s going to be hard for them to wrap their head around.”
Ironically, the Tour instigated the changes to the season finale to make it easier for the viewers to understand. Previously there have been two prize-givings on the Sunday, with the winners of both the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup being crowned.
The FedEx Cup standings were ridiculously complicated, with players and fans alike unsure of the state of play as the action unfolded and Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour chief executive, decided to be bold as the tournament moved forwards to September. The $15m bounty proceeded to play large in the publicity drive. Again, McIlroy feels uncomfortable.
“Who knows what the winner wins at the Masters? I don’t know because that’s not what it’s about,” he said. “So again, if the FedEx Cup wants to create a legacy that lasts longer, it doesn’t need to be about the money, it should be about the prestige of winning an event that you’ll be remembered for.
“I don’t think the money needs to be front and centre because I don’t think that’s what the fans care about. It’s definitely a thought that came into my head, ‘How can we make ourselves more relatable to the fans?’ – and having $15m front and centre isn’t probably the best way to do it.”
If Thomas, who won last week at a canter in Chicago, begins well at East Lake then this could easily develop into a damp squib. “With this format it has the potential where myself and a couple of guys get hot at the top of the leaderboard and it could be a one-man show,” Thomas conceded. “But if some of us at the top don’t play well, you legitimately have the chance of 25-28 guys that have a chance to win $15m on Sunday.”